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Candle in the Dark 



Philosopher's Holiday 
Human Traits and Their Social Significance 


Richard Kane Looks at Life 

Adam, the Baby and the Man from Mars 

The World, the Arts and the Artist 

The Contemporary and His Soul 

The Mind of Paul 
Four Ways of Philosophy 



A Postscript to Despair 



New York 


Copyright 1939 by Irwin Edman 
Printed in V. S. A. by The Haddon Craftsmen 

Distributed in Canada by the Macmillan Company 
of Canada, Ltd. 

First published in November 1939 


in memory 

days of peace 

Little Codkam Hall 

"A shipwrecked sailor on this coast 

bids you set sail, 

Full many a gallant skip ere we were lost 
weathered the gale. " 



faiths by which 
men live are various, and some, like love, 
happiness, progress, and success, may 
hardly be recognized as faiths at all. But 
they are beliefs and men act on them. To 
sensitive human beings everywhere the 
most serious of casualties has already come. 
That casualty is the collapse of everything 
by which the hopeful spirit or the generous 
mind has lived. For the second time in a gen- 
eration the brutal futility of war has broken 
out in the very heart of the civilized world, 
in lands that are the sources of ourselves and 
[ 9 1 

[10 ] 

our culture. Whatever be the causes, what- 
ever the necessity, the fact that there could 
be such causes and such necessity h$s al- 
ready eaten like a canker into the bloom of 
every value we enjoy and every ideal we 
cherish. It has seemed to make a mockery 
of all our hopes, and nonsense of all our 
knowledge. It has turned the faith in edu- 
cation into an irony and has reduced to 
triviality the arts on which men have lav- 
ished their technical mastery and their lyric 
flame. It has made even private joys seem 
precarious and shame-faced. What do all 
these things avail, when they end in de- 
liberate death and incalculable chaos? Men 
in the nineteenth century were sad that they 
could no longer believe in God. They are 
more deeply saddened now by the fact that 
they can no longer believe in man. 

What, in the face of such overwhelming 
collapse, is there for us to escape to or to 
cling to or to lean on? Where may we turn, 

[ 11 ] 

in A.E/s wonderful phrases, from "the poli- 
tics of time" to "the politics of eternity'? 

What can we do to keep sane in a world 
gone mad? 

For it is impossible to ignore so univer- 
sal a disaster. Even the Ivory Tower is not 
bomb-proof, nor can we retreat into our- 
selves, for our deepest thoughts and senti- 
ments are colored by a world catastrophe. 
Like it or not, we must think and we must 
feel about it. For once in our lives we are 
compelled to concern ourselves about issues 
larger than ourselves and about interests not 
immediately our own. 

So it comes about, strangely, at a time 
when action is most virulent, when condi- 
tions are most violent in the world, that we 
are compelled to turn to thoughts appar- 


ently remote, to raise fundamental issues, 
and to ask fundamental questions. If all the 
goods of life are uncertain, we are harried 
into asking what the goods of life really are. 
If all our expectations have been defrauded, 
we are led to ask what the proper expecta- 
tions of man may be. If our science is ren- 
dered suspect because of the horror it 
produces or the happiness it has failed to 
produce, we are driven to consider the real 
hope and scope of science. If our education 
is futile, we necessarily ask what kind of 
education might not be. If our art is trivial, 
we must inquire what would constitute a 
major or healing art. In a time of despair we 
are driven to philosophy, which may, as 
somebody once called it, be at least "a dim 
candle over a dark abyss." Unless we are to 
go, like the continent of Europe, completely 
to pieces, we must turn to some organic and 
unifying consideration of life. In so turning 
we shall re-assess even our despair and pos- 


sibly be rescued from some of our disillu- 
sionment. If we do not find a solution, we 
may, in the very act of thinking, find an un- 
expected anodyne, for fundamental think- 
ing involves the past, the future, and the 
timeless. Some, at least, of the sting of the 
present is removed, for even the present is 
seen at arm's length. 

The first temptation is to escape into a 
vague mysticism or a definite callousness* 
But if we were really callous we could not 
be so deeply hurt. It is because we are not 
( insensible that we turn to escape in brisk 
-and cynical hardness; where tomorrows are 
all dark, it seems reasonable to live for the 
day. Or (it happened during the last war) 
we turn to vague mysticism, to philosophies 
that tell us that, though all is apparent chaos, 
there are reason and beauty at the core. We 
are not children. We cannot thus fool our- 
selves. For many, still, there is comfort in 
the thought that God moves in a mysterious 


way his wonders to perform. But for the rest 
of us? 

There is an old Arabic proverb: "Hope is 
a slave, despair a free man," Surely in that 
sense today we are all free. But despair it- 
self is one of the things we must re-examine. 
Perhaps we are despairing because we had 
hoped too much or in the wrong direction. 
If we are desperate, what are we desperate 

Our unhappiness has a longer history 
than the outbreak of war, our horror is. not 
simply the desolation and the destruction 
of war, ruined cities in Poland, and millions 
again mobilized on the Western Front, It is 
a terror,, growing in the hearts of men ever 
since 1914, not only that the values for 
which men live are in danger but that the 
very principles by which they live are being 
rendered null. We despair that ever again 
will the glory and beauty of the civilized 

L -to 1 

world be enjoyed by free men in spiritual or 
even physical security. 

For though men have felt guilt about 
their enjoyment of the world, they have en- 
joyed it. Though Truth, Goodness, and 
Beauty have been hard to define, men have 
died for them or lived by them. Now truth is 
publicly flouted in the major decisions that 
affect all mankind. An almost diabolical un- 
concern for human feelings, for human suf- 
fering or human happiness, seems to be the 
central creed of powerful people on whose 
decisions depend unnumbered instances of 
private well-being. Not only is the creation 
of beauty interrupted, but the subtle pur- 
suit of its distinctions, the fine attune- 
ment required for its enjoyment, seem to 
have no place and no function. And what 
is worse, there is no guarantee that men will 
have them again after all this is over. Name, 
one by one, things for which men care or 

[ 16 ] 

by which they live private affections, sim- 
ple physical pleasures, public good, com- 
mon arts, large and liberating ideas, the 
primary decencies or the ultimate values 
they are either threatened or sidetracked or 
made suspect. 

It is one of the major tragedies of the 
present tragic time that this should be so. 
For, in an important sense, nothing has been 
changed, though everything has been in- 
terrupted. One would not go on listening 
to Beethoven if one's house were afire, but 
the beauty of music remains no less beauti- 
ful because our listening to it must be post- 
poned. If the world is going to smash, one's 
personal ambitions or one's griefs or loves 
seem relatively unimportant. But no amount 
of the regimentation of war erases the fact 
that ultimately public welfare becomes ac- 
tual in the private joys of single individuals. 
The common welfare is the well-being of 
individual men. Nothing has changed. But 


everything has a new and desolating con- 

For the fact of a war involving economi- 
cally and morally the whole of civilization 
has put every other fact before us in a 
strange and somber light. It is impossible to 
enjoy even the simplest of daily experiences 
without remembering. Amid the reds of the 
peaceful Connecticut autumn one thinks of 
foreign battlefields and blood. In the bril- 
liant dusk of an October day along the 
Hudson one is reminded of soldiers massed 
at the Vistula or by the Rhine. In the snug 
companionship of families and friends, one 
recalls how many families are broken up, 
and how many friends separated, perhaps 

Doubt enters the very citadel of our en- 
joyments and devotions. Embarrassment, 
almost a sense of guilt, infects the normal 
casualness and gaiety of conversation in our 
own living rooms and with our familiars. 

[ 18] 

We can have serenity of mind, if at all, only 
if we divest ourselves of all our comfortable 
illusions, and gaze candidly on whatever 
bare moral minimum we have left. We must 
face the fact that the faith of the modern 
man, to whatever low level it has receded, 
must recede still further before it can rise 
again. For it is not only the grand commit- 
ments of hopes that are rendered bankrupt; 
it is also the narrower, less pretentious, more 
personal assumptions. Along with faith in 
the whole of humanity must vanish reliance, 
for a sense of well-being, on private pleasure 
and success. Private pleasure has become 
tainted and personal success both empty 
and uncertain. A disaster so wide reaches 
into every nook of soliloquy and corrupts 
the most modest personal joy. How long we 
can know these, even the most fortunate of 
us, we are not certain, and to even the most 
callous it has occurred and recurred that in 
a world so awry we have no right to enjoy 

[ 19] 

them at all, or we find, if we think we have 
the right, that the joy has been poisoned at 
the heart. 

In the present war as in the last one, in 
the next dubious peace as in the last, it is 
not unnatural that we should look for conso- 
lation in some facet of the fact of war itself. 
War, much as we hate to admit it, gives, 
even for us not in the midst of it, a sudden 
edged preciousness to values we had taken 
for granted, like light when night is falling, 
or conversation with a friend one knows is 
doomed to die. "The blackberries are almost 
ripe/' an English friend wrote me the day 
after war had begun, and he on the eve of 
war service, "and I almost deliberately en- 
joy the gardening today/* The day becomes 
poignantly beautiful in a setting autumn 
sun. The very tameness of our usual easy 
pleasures acquires a wild flush of beauty 
when they are dislocated or threatened. The 
normal becomes abnormally interesting. 

[20 ] 

And the abnormality of war itself > seen at a 
distance by the neutral civilian, becomes a 
tragic spectacle. We live, it is borne in upon 
us, in the midst of great issues. In point of 
fact, we always do, but in time of a war in- 
volving a great part of the civilized nations 
of the world, those issues become sharpened 
in outline; as at a tragedy we are the fasci- 
nated participants in a vital battle; all our 
private irresolutions are overshadowed by 
the tensions of the decision to be made; we 
are exalted by the dubious arbitrament of 
blood. The actual pain, misery, and bore- 
dom of the war for those involved in it are, 
for some at least, balanced by the perverse 
excitement of hates that have an object, and 
crusades that have a point. There is no time 
for moaning about futility, though the last 
war proved to have been futile. 

The chaos of events has a specious mean- 
ing once the conflict is afoot. Even for those 
not among the nations involved, the ten- 

[21 ] 

sions are real, the occasion large, the wine 
for imagination heady. It was repeatedly re- 
marked after the last war how great a let- 
down and a laxness of feeling occurred 
directly the war was over. When the fight- 
ing stopped, the peace was empty, for dur- 
ing the four years the very interruption of 
peace had given a temporary significance 
to life and society. The thunder of guns 
drowned out all other meaning or the ab- 
sence of all other meaning During a great 
war the little pleasures seem bigger; the big- 
ger doubts temporarily are forgotten. For 
the time being we lose the power of mind 
save for one end. Private depressions seem 
puny, and cosmic pessimism remote. 

Then again, by one of the strange psy- 
choses of the war temper, for once the moral 
loneliness and isolation of individuals seem 
to be transcended. Even when they disagree 
about the aim of war ? or the hopes for peace, 
it is for once a common theme that indi- 


viduals are largely thinking about or 
haunted by. Their thinking is focused on a 
universally intelligible fact, though, or be- 
cause, it is a terrible one. There is probably 
no other time in the complexities of the mod- 
ern world when this is true. It is ironic but 
significant that only when all the concerns 
of humanity are threatened is the common 
humanity of man present to the minds of all. 
It is not until the boat is sinking that we are 
made to realize that we are in the same 
boat. During a common crisis there is a 
frightened closeness of human association. 
In a dark time men for once realize that 
they are brothers in desperation. 

And in that dark time, another common 
bond arises. "I am too busy to think/* my 
English friend wrote in the letter quoted 
above, <c but when I do I cannot help won- 
dering what sort of wo$d may be patched 
up after all this is over." So does everyone. 
The worst war cannot go on forever, and 


the resilience of life is such that to live at 
all it is imperative to look beyond the dark- 
ness to a possible light. Already we are 
thinking of what kind of world it may be 
"after all this is over.'* The world after the 
war. The words become an ironic empti- 
ness to those of us who lived through the 
last one. For this is the world after the war, 
this very present, war-dazed world we are 
in. In the last war, too, the quality of the mo- 
ment became precious. In the last war, too, 
men had common aims or felt a common 
tragedy. During the last war, too, men 
planned for a better society in the peace to 
come. And we know now how rapidly, once 
the war is over, these things pass: the com- 
fort intensified by danger, the common bond 
provided by a universal calamity, the gleam 
shining bravely in the darkness. 

All these things we recognize now, yet 
(or else we could not live at all) our im- 
pulse and obligations keep us going. We 

[24 ] 

breathe, we eat, we love. No hostilities can 
put a moratorium on these instinctive asser- 
tions of life. Our work is continued out of 
habit, and our economic need for work re- 
mains in war as in peace. But in war as in 
peace there is some time to think, and a war 
prompts us more than is usual with us to 
think about ultimate matters. And when we 
do think, we discover the depths of the dis- 
aster that has overtaken us. For we are as- 
sailed by a tormenting uneasiness about 
both the usual furniture of our existence 
our pleasures, our comforts, and our secu- 
rityand the principles by which almost in- 
stinctively we had lived. The things we love 
and the ideas we live by have been brutally 
challenged or exploded. 

First as to the things we have taken for 
granted as normal. Psychiatry has of late 
made us self-conscious and dubious about 
human virtue, it is true. But there is for most 
people, I think, the residual sense that, 


whatever misery there may be in life, what- 
ever sliminess in persons, on the whole, a 
certain measure of comfort and enjoyment 
is the normal part of life and a certain 
measure of decency, courtesy, and com- 
panionability may be assumed to animate 
human beings and control their behavior. 
The outbreak of war has merely brought 
to a focus our suspicion that a relatively 
pleasant life and a relatively decent be- 
havior are not the standard equipment and 
the standard practice of human beings. 
Even in times of "peace," peace has been 
shattered by news whose horror is not less 
because for years we have had to be accus- 
tomed to it. We do not need news of tor- 
tures practiced on a large scale in concen- 
tration camps or in Chinese battles. In times 
of tranquillity at home there are scenes of 
violence and misery from which we are 
compelled, or compel ourselves, to avert our 
eyes. Life is, we hardly need to be re- 


minded., not marked by the smooth security 
of the middle class. The standards of com- 
fortable and pleasant living have never 
been universal. A war merely dramatically 
destroys them in fact or in spirit for us all. 
Pain and violence, death and frustration, 
become a patent spectacle for all mankind 
and an unavoidable experience for a good 
part of it. In times of peace we could at 
least hope that the friendly ease possible for 
the comfortable classes might, if sufficient 
wit and good will contrived it, be possible 
for everyone. But we now see how thin,, 
ineffective, and limited are the operations 
of courtesy and comfort and friendliness, 
how restricted the sphere in which gaiety 
and enjoyment obtain. What is the use of 
being told to cultivate our garden, when 
bombshells may land in its midst, or when 
we know what sadness lies over the garden 
Then, too, the gently bred and reasonably 


instructed have long felt that education in 
sensibility and reason might make good will 
and good sense prevail. For most liberal- 
minded people had in the past hundred 
years gone to the opposite extreme from the 
dire theological estimate of unregenerate 
human nature. Even the widespread popu- 
larity of psychoanalysis had not cured us of 
a fairly genial estimate of human nature and 
the possibilities that lay in its education. 
Psychiatry, it is true, had revealed how 
much of the animal and the savage lay em- 
bedded in our subconscious, but until the 
recent spread of barbarism and violence 
over Europe and the Orient most liberal 
minds had been prepared to excuse our 
vices on the grounds of the burden of bes- 
tiality and chaos that lay within our psyches. 
For the most part, with the gradual growth 
of humanitarian sentiment and activity 
through the nineteenth century, it seemed 
not impossible to believe that a certain kind 

[28 ] 

of decency and harmony, the sort of behav- 
ior that people exhibited toward one another 
when they were not "too unhappy to be 
kind/* might gradually come to control 
large human affairs. Briand could say tri- 
umphantly after one of those hopeful 
between-war conferences at which he and 
Stresemann had learned to understand each 
other, "We speak not as Frenchmen or Ger- 
mans, but as Europeans." English boys 
went tramping through the countryside, and 
lodging in the youth hostels, of Germany, 
and one envisaged a future when men might 
all really speak with the accents of hu- 

Psychiatry had long made us suspicious, 
and fanaticism on a nation-wide scale has 
now made us completely despair of any such 
humane future. The democratic hypothesis, 
which is essentially the belief in the self- 
improvability of humanity, has not seemed 
to work, and neither has the technical mas- 


tery of science on winch it is based. Faith in 
the perfectibility of human nature and, 
through human nature, of human institu- 
tions has suffered a severe setback. The 
chances of implementing good will with a 
good life seem slim. We have lost our faith 
in the common hopes of the common man 
and the human wisdom of the ingenious and 
the learned. There has probably never been 
a time when the faith in democracy, how- 
ever we may still cherish it, has been at a 
lower ebb; never a period when the human 
benefits of science or its promise of felicity 
has been more completely called into ques- 

The faith in science ought perhaps to be 
examined first, for it was on scientific 
method, until a quarter of a century ago, 


that we had banked most of our hopes. The 
most painful part of the irony lies in the fact 
that in one respect there is nothing to disil- 
lusion us within certain limits, our reliance 
upon scientific method has been more than 
justified. Increasingly it has appeared that 
there is almost nothing that men cannot ac- 
complish in their mastery over things. There 
is nothing that men cannot do, but there 
seems almost nothing too terrible for which 
they will not use or cannot be made to use 
their unprecedented powers. The science 
that was to make life beautiful has also 
made it hideous. It rains bombs upon de- 
fenseless cities as well as celestial music 
upon enraptured ears. It invents unspeak- 
able tortures as well as the clean beauties of 
modern architecture. It brings the most ele- 
gant and disciplined of chamber music into 
our homes but it carries thereto also the 
voices of the demagogue and the dictator. 
It gives us abundance but has not prevented 


starvation in the midst of plenty. It gives us 
longer life and swifter death. We are able 
to accomplish incredible transformations 
of incalculable resources and to achieve 
everything except security and peace. Sur- 
gery marvelously salvages men shattered by 
an equally marvelous precision. Fields of 
grain and flocks of sheep are destroyed 
while gifted chemists devise substitutes for 
bread and wool. The same infinite capacity 
that might make the world over is used to 
destroy it* 

The faith in political democracy has suf- 
fered no less than the faith in scientific 
method. Before the first World War the 
liberal mind could look forward to the day 

when co-operative intelligence nourished 

r , ...... f ' - . 

by universal education could make the 
world a family of nations and individuals 
members of a national family. The lion and 
the lamb of labor and capital, prophets such 
as H. G. Wells used to assure us, were to 


lie down together, and nations^ races, and 
creeds were to live in a friendly atmosphere 
of universal good will. That pipe-dream of 
corporate world-wide felicity has vanished 
at the very time that rapid communication 
and world-wide technology were making 
the planet small in scope and one in its in- 
volvements. Representative government has 
not been able to provide at once for the com- 
forts and for the security of a people, and to 
maintain, untampered with, the individual 
variety of their lives. Nor has representative 
government turned out to be representative 
of any but the economically dominant in- 
terests. Part of the "revolt of the masses," 
ironically betrayed in Russia and betrayed 
from the outset in Germany, came from the 
fact that democracy did not work as a true 
democracy, nor was the pluto-oligarchy that 
passed for democracy able to function; in a 
contracting world economy, with both in- 
ternal breakdown and imperialistic clashes, 


these pseudo-democracies came to grief. 
September 1939 was the climactic date of 
our disillusion, but it had been twenty years 

No wonder we speak of the failure of the 
laboratory, and the bankruptcy of democ- 
racy. We have with purely human intelli- 
gence achieved marvels of superhuman 
technical cunning. But we have not had 
enough combined beneficent cunning to 
turn the world from a twenty years* threat 
of a shambles, and now from a shambles it- 
self, into a garden home of quiet, individual 
pleasure and shared joy. 

But the deepest cause for doubt is not the 
failure of specific principles, for such fail- 
tires are natural enough in a world where all 
life is a risk and where intelligence is an ad- 


Venture. It is the failure of that principle by 
which all principles are corrected. A recent 
writer, Jacques Barzun, has suggestively 
pointed out that one of the things we need 
to be freed from is absolutes. It is the slavery 
of principles,, racial, national, cultural, phil- 
osophical, that is part of the source of our 
disasters. Absolutes in ideas turn into fanat- 
icisms in action; principles we are willing to 
die for may also become, if we live by them, 
a death in life. We are not driven to melan- 
choly because reason has erred. We may 
think with Socrates that if reasoners err, it 
is not reason that is at fault. Our chagrin 
comes not from the fact that we are com- 
pelled to re-examine our principles, but from 
the fact that we are suspicious of the ca- 
pacity to be intelligently self-critical, when 
intelligence has made such an apparently 
hopeless muddle of its affairs. Our baffle- 
ment comes rather from the fact, even more 
desolating, that though there is evident 


and current any amount of reasonableness 
among a relatively small group of men, en- 
lightenment, reasonableness,' the habit of. 
criticism, along with amiability and decency 
of behavior, seem utterly no match for ruth- 
less power and brutal domination. The bass 
notes of unreason have made reason itself, 
such of it as remains, a very thin treble in 
the affairs of men. 

It is thus not the setback of principles, of 
belief in democracy, or in human nature, or 
in the goods of life, that has been most 
devastating. The discovery that principles 
are wrong, that practices are ineffective, 
would not trouble us so deeply. What does 
give us pause is that the instrument on 
which liberal hopes had above all relied, the 

instrument of reason itself> has been re- 


vealed as so tiny a flicker,, so negligible a 
force, in the governance of mankind. If we 
carry within us a burden of childishness, 
savagery, and animality, the same psychi- 

[36 ] 

atric science that had taught us to recognize 
those gave us also the hope that we might in 
time learn to direct them. The same realism 
that pointed out the difficulties inherent in 
the practice of democracy could also prom- 
ise us a technique for overcoming those dif- 

We have come, I think, for the first time 
since the early nineteenth century to the 
point where, especially among progressive 
minds, the deep fear has arisen that intelli- 
gence itself is pathetically ineffective. For, 
against all those convenient shibboleths of 
nineteenth-century hopefulness, comes the 
stark assertion of force. Fanaticism is in 
the saddle. Brute power is dominant in 
civilization, and things have come indeed to 
such a pass that the very nations which con- 
demn such an assertion of power find that 
only by brute resistance can brute power 
itself be repulsed. Good will and good sense 
indeed! The climax of our disillusion comes 


in the fact that civilized virtues appear to 
have no place and no jurisdiction in a world 
where ill-will and madness prevail. 


The world of tomorrow! When we can 
scarcely bear to consider what may fol- 
low from the world of today! No wonder, 
therefore, that, despairing of what man has 
made and seems to be making of the pres- 
ent, there has grown up all over Europe 
and America a nostalgia for the past. There 
has been a deep-seated tendency to look 
elsewhere than at the present, a tendency 
that the last catastrophic turn of events will 
enhance. We shall continue to have, as we 
.have been having these last years, nostalgic 
memoirs, backward looks to a simpler, more 
stable society. The sentimental backward 
"glance has been very popular in the last 


twenty years. The past is smoothed out; we 
are given everything but the pain and death 
and squalor, and even when given these, at 
a distance, they are aureoled in sentiment as 
pain, death, and squalor are not aureoled 
in the screaming actuality of the present. 
When we are desperate enough, Utopia 
comes to lie in the day before yesterday. 
Vienna is in the hands of ruthless conquer- 
ors, but we can turn, in imagination at least, 
to the Vienna of waltzes and wines, of 
gaiety, of kindliness, of German feeling 
with a French accent and a French elan. 
There are sandbags in the streets of London, 
and London at night is a medieval city with- 
out lights and without entertainment and 
with the fear of sudden death in the dark 
from on high. It is excusable enough if we 
turn to dreams of the England of Thackeray 
and Dickens, of a settled social order, of 
Christmas jollity even among the poor, of 
untroubled elegance among the rich, of 


cricket games on village greens, of bracing 
walks on windswept moorlands with no 
threatening hum of airplanes overhead. It is 
natural that in New York, amid the tensions 
of a seaport visited by armed merchantmen 
and refugees arriving from nerve-racked 
cities in the theater of war, we retreat in 
fancy to a little older New York, where 
people knew their neighbors, and the city 
was a small town of friends. Now, more than 
ever, we are tempted to escape to a world of 
horse-and-buggy doctors, of village stage 
coaches, of crinolines, of guitars sounding 
on June nights on plantation verandas, to a 
period of simple homely virtues, of the old- 
fashioned American way. 

It is natural enough that the flight to 
yesterday should occur when today is al- 
most unbearable. We turn to the past when 
the future looks terrifying or looks blank. 
Then, most of all, the Golden Age is identi- 
fied with the Garden of Eden; Heaven is not 


to be gained or even regained; felicity is 
Paradise Lost. The Garden of Eden is our 
childhood, or, since if we are honest we 
remember some painful moments there, the 
childhood of our grandparents, where, we 
like to believe, there were no wars or 
rumors of wars, or only very little ones. For- 
getting the Caesars and Napoleons, we for- 
get too that there were dictators and, ignor- 
ing the history books, that there were battles 
or conquests. We envy Thoreau meditating 
by Walden Pond, Emerson conversing on 
high matters with pure spirits in Concord, 
or the family group in Little Women, for- 
getting too that that idyl took place with the 
Civil War going on. "Once upon a time" 
means once upon a better time, where all 
tales ended happily, when evil was but a 
transient shadow to vanish or be conquered 
by the good. 
Doubtless now that the present is so bleak 


and the future so ominous we shall more 
than ever turn to the past. But not without 
misgivings. For almost everyone now is in- 
clined to suspect that it is only the urgency 
of the present that makes the past seem so 
desirable. Our picture of the past is a pres- 
ent with the blemishes removed, put a thou- 
sand years ago or yesterday. But we are 
here, it is now; whatever peace of mind we 
attain must be based upon that incorrigible 


In previous ages when external events 
were too terrifying or too hopeless, men 
could retreat into themselves. They could 
face the alien world with a certain equa- 
nimity, safe and serene so long as they 
breathed in the solace and the rectitude, 
the generosity and the courage, of their 
own ideals* 


It was partly out of despair, personal and 
social, that W. E. Henley could write: 

It matters not how strait the gate, 

How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate: 

I am the captain of my soul. 

We have seen any number of tragic evi- 
dences these past years of how much brave, 
foolish rhetoric is involved in those lines. 
The bravest of spirits is not the master of his 
fate when he is in a concentration camp 
under brutal guards. Nor is it easy to be the 
captain of one's soul when the captain is 
confused and doubts whether he is the cap- 
tain, when his course is not clear and he 
wonders whether the ports he is headed for 
are worth making, or can be made before he 

Even apart from external circumstances, 
the internal weather of our souls has been 
cloudy these last fateful years. Darker than 
any outer darkness is what St. John of the 


Cross called the dark night of the soul. 
The psychiatrists have made us suspicious 
of our ideals and our motives, and the econ- 
omists and the sociologists have rendered us 
uneasy as to the sources of what we hold 
most dear. Sex and money are not only at 
the root of all evil, but of all good. We come 
trailing clouds, not of glory, but of greed 
and lust. The outer world with its spread of 
barbarism simply confirms our worst 
thoughts about ourselves; it takes away the 
sacred citadel of ourselves, too. Without 
too great a conviction of sin, we may still 
feel that the picture of life today in the 
world is simply the expression of the child- 
ishness, the savagery, the animality which 
we have of late discovered about ourselves. 
The inner world as well as the outer one is 
barbarism. The inner prospect is no nobler 
than the external one. The latter is the evil 
in man's soul become an epidemic in the 
world. Or the soul of man, as the psychia- 

[44 ] 

trists reveal it to us, is simply the state of 
society reflected, as in an exact mirror, in 

In times of despair in the past, men have 
been able to retire into something deeper 
than themselves. Saints and mystics have 
recommended the serenity that might be at- 
tained if only one could be sufficiently still. 
If the outer world were steadfastly disre- 
garded, if the inner tumult were sufficiently 
subdued, within the collected psyche some- 
thing solacing and deep would sound. In the 
depths of one's own retired being, all Being 
would speak; one would be at peace with, 
the eternal. The tumult without is now too 
loud; the conflict and doubt within are too 
strong. Part of our desolation comes from 

[45 ] 

the fact that there are no collected silent 
spaces for the spirit. It is part of our tragedy 
that the rapt quiet of the saints and mystics, 
the collected sanctuary of the spirit., is not 
possible for us in these agitating times. Not 
in the self, nor in the past, nor in a mystical 
absorption, is escape to be found, and the 
present seems to offer no ground for hope. 
It is, as Bertrand Russell once put it, "on the 
firm foundation of unyielding despair that 
the soul's habitation henceforth alone can 
be safely built." Any comfort we can find 
must be a postscript to despair. 

Only when we are willing to call into 
question everything we have taken for 
granted, only on the precarious bedrock of 
doubt, can we rise to any encouragements, 
or can any consolations be found. What 
brief candles of hope or of resource can we 
find in a darkness which we are first pre- 
pared to accept as absolute? What, amid the 


noisy alarms and scarring disillusions, can 
die mind remaining at once candid and lib- 
eral hope for? 

The first ray of hope, perhaps, lies in the 
discovery that the darkness may be not so 
absolute as we had supposed. Nihilism is a 
form of hysteria, and hysteria occurs where 
the patient, having no possible solution, 
moans incoherently in confused defeat. Bad 
as the present is, it seems worse than any 
past only by virtue of the fact that it has its 
sharp edge of being here and now. This is, 
of course, not the first time in the history of 
civilization that sensitive spirits, bred in a 
familiar culture, have declared, because 
that culture was changing, that all civiliza- 
tion was coming to an end. 

This is not the first time in the history of 

[ 47] 

the West that the good and the reasonable 
saw nothing to do but to die or to shudder. 
It is sobering to our too hysterical fears to 
take, under the guidance of competent his- 
torians, a historical perspective. It requires 
a hard, even a cruel effort at detachment to 
take the long view, but only by taking such 
a view can we see our present plight in 
something like its true proportions and find 
true proportions for our still persistent 
hopes. We shall, by so doing, discover that 
part of the nihilism that is in the air is the 
result of a strange and absurd conviction 
that we are living in a new kind of present, 
one without a past and without a future. 
Men in earlier ages, too, thought they were 
living at the end of the world. Nothing 
comes out of nothing, Lucretius once long 
ago informed his readers. No civilization 
ever ends. Let us calm ourselves a little by 
citing the words of an eminent historian of 
the Middle Ages: 

[ 48] 

The Middle Ages can be rightly understood 
only as a period of convalescence, slow at 
best, and with continual relapses, from the 
worst catastrophe recorded in the whole his- 
tory of the Western World. . . . The break- 
up of the [Roman] Empire was followed by 
scenes of disorder, not only far more intense 
than what we have seen in the most unhappy 
districts of modern times, but prolonged for a 
period exceeding the worst that we can possi- 
bly fear as a result of the present international 
rivalries and class conflicts. . . . Generations 
later, when the barbarians had burst in and 
Alaric the Goth had even taken Rome, men felt 
as though the sky had fallen. (Coulton, 
Medieval Panorama, pp. 8-9. ) 

The sky had not fallen; it never hai done 
so; it never will. There is every evidence 
that the civilization of Western Europe as 
we men have known it for hundreds of years 
is in eclipse, in the sense that forces are coin- 
ing to birth that will make it inconceivably 
different. What would Western culture be 
like without our familiar religions, arts, and 


aspirations? So much o our imaginative 
heritage is bound up with that world that 
radical changes in it seem very like an end, 
and that end very like a tragedy. But though 
the Roman Empire collapsed, the elements 
of civilization it contained have survived. 
And if a complicated and decaying system 
of politics, finance, and privilege, blended 
with religion, is now passing away, that does 
not mean that all the past values it has en- 
shrined are ended, or that they will not come 
to life, again in a freer and more equitable 
world. The glory that was Greece continued 
to live in the grandeur that was Rome, and 
Romexndures today in our thoughts, emo- 
tions, our institutions and arts, in our laws 
and our languages. St. Augustine said the 
City of God lives on forever while the em- 
pires of man pass away. But all that counts 
in the City of Man, too, has survived; only 
the imperial matrix has vanished. Civiliza- 
tions do not end; they change, and terrible 

[50 ] 

as are the crises and disorders tlirough 
which Western civilization has passed, it has 
never altogether ceased. We are too nihilis- 
tic. We prematurely and provincially as- 
sume that, because the present bodes an end 
to established empires, it is the end of all 
things. The world seemed to a good many 
Athenians, too, to have ended with the 
Peloponnesian War. 

Historical-mindedness may rescue us, 
then, from the sense that we are living in a 
twilight of the gods. Perhaps our gods were 
not all gods, perhaps new gods are being 
born. But it may be argued that only from 
the point of view of astronomical coolness or 
geological leisure can one speak v so calmly 
of the lapse of a civilization with which all 
the moral and aesthetic and practical inter- 
ests of contemporary lives are concerned. 
Nor can the actuality of present agonies be 
brushed away in such grandiose detach- 
ment. But to remember the past, to be 

[51 ] 

historical-minded, if it does not give us too 
great expectations, at least removes us from 
a hysterical piling up of our worst fears and 
an exacerbated awareness of evil. We read 
of casualties by the thousand in undeclared 
wars in the Orient and of the tensions of the 
theater of war now closer to home in the 
West, of execution by the score in coun- 
tries at peace, of starvation in lands of 
abundance. We ask, could anything at any 
time have been worse? The answer is that 
they could have been and that they have 
been. The collapse of the Roman Empire is 
not simply a graph in a later historian's 
pagQ. It meant actual painful disorder in 
the lives of millions of men for hundreds of 
years. Much later, the Thirty Years* War 
was one of the worst scourges, one of the 
most terrible and futile ravagings of Euro- 
pean civilization, in recorded history. The 
news of it did not spread in hectic flashes 
instantly over the whole of mankind. But it 


was quite as acutely damaging to innocent 
and helpless individuals as anything men 
suffer today. The Thirty Years 5 War was 
but one among many times when the gen- 
erous and reasonable could only lament and 
despair, if they were not themselves in too 
dire distress to look at that of others with 
either detachment or sympathy. It is not, I 
thinly sentimentalism to point out that men 
have survived certainly cultures and na- 
tions and races have survived other crises, 
worse crises than even that of the national 
rivalries and class conflicts of today. It is 
true that the miseries of our own time are 
no less acute, its terrors no less frightening, 
because other ages had their share. But we 
need to be reminded of the epitaph of the 
shipwrecked sailor quoted in the Greek 

A shipwrecked sailor on this coast bids you set 


Full many a gallant ship ere we were lost 
weathered the gale. 

Our own tragedies are acutely our own> 
but they are not final in the universe, nor do 
they preclude a renascence of life in per- 
haps more liberal and intelligent forms. 
Vegetation dies every autumn but Nature 
does not die. So, too, with forms of human 
living. There will be springs again, and even 
now children are being born whose adult 
lives will begin when the storm is over, and 
when they may have learned to build batter 
than we. And if the houses of their spirit 
have a different architecture, they may be 
no less beautiful; they may well be more 
solid and more roomy than our own inher- 
ited forms of shelter, and to the generations 
who will live in them quite as homely and 
familiar and as much the stimulus to affec- 
tion and imagination as anything we have 


But historical-mindedness has other uses 
than to show us that things were once worse 
or just as bad or just as portentous or that 
Nature generates new ways of life for men. 
Its real uses are to show us the roots and 
sources of our worst evils and in the very 
revelation of their origins show us hints of 
their possible cures. This civilization itself, 
which we moan to see in collapse, contained, 
obviously, the very disease which produced 
the present crisis. We will not be quite so 
benumbed by the disaster if we see its long- 
range sources; we shall feel less a collec- 
tively suicidal impulse. Willy-nilly^ we shall 
go on having expectations, for to live at all 
is to expect, but our hopes will be more 
sober and less treacherous. Historical- 
mindedness is important above all in giving 
us the habit of thinking in terms of causes 
and consequences. We shall see that, if not 
all our expectations were sober, neither were 
all our despairs. Why should we, in the long 

[ 55 ] 

historical perspective, despair of science, 
democracy, and human nature itself? 

On the negative side, even the most bitter 
admit that physical science has been a tri- 
umphant and, as in the diabolical new tech- 
nique of high explosives, sometimes a grimly 
spectacular success. So much have the mir- 
acles of the technique of physical science 
become familiar that they are banal But we 
need to be reminded again how young a 
venture is scientific method and how limited 
the fields in which it has been tried. The 
present state to which ciyili2:atioii.iias^come 
is not a cue to give up the hope of improve- 
ment of mankind through understanding. 
Rather it is brought home to us tragically to 
w;hat a pass we are come when we leave 
human relations, private and public, to the 

[56 ] 

devices of vested interests, fanatic formulas, 
and uninstructed passions. Small as is the 
area in which intelligence has been applied 
to social and human problems, it has been 
strikingly effective. Psychiatry is, in the 
modern sense, simply a child, yet it has be- 
gun to remake the souls of men. Where eco- 
nomic opportunity and stability have per- 
mitted it^education, too, for all its failures, 
has made thousands upon thousands of chil- 
drenborn, like children in any age, little 
bundles of animal savagery-^tatp reason- 
able and decentjtmman beings. Even in 
this disordered society there are thousands 
upon thousands of instances of relatively 
ordered and sometimes beautiful lives. 
Scientific method is simply a name for the 
technique of human art applied to human 
problems. There is nothing but a challenge 
in the fact that the social and moral scene is 
still in chaos and threatens to be in worse 
disorder before it improves. 


There is even a kind of encouragement in 
our recognition of just how much the war is 
interrupting the beneficent arts of healing, 
of teaching, and of housing and communica- 
tion. No one can have seen Europe in the 
past twenty years without noting in how 
many directions, even under the constant 
threat of war, new and fruitful methods in 
education, in socialized medicine,, in meth- 
ods of social security have been developed. 
It was in Vienna, starving and uneasy, that 
some of the finest schemes of workers* hous- 
ing grew. Even in the maelstrom of inse- 
curity that we now see the Weimar Repub- 
lic to have been, youth movements, modern 
building, and a lively folk theater were 
being encouraged. In the Scandinavian 
countries, as many recent books have re- 
minded us, intelligence (a simpler name 
for scientific method) was making the pat- 
tern of a rich shared life, of a simple, sen- 
sible culture in which it was possible for 


all to have a part without acrimony. In 
America, whatever bruises and disruptions, 
whatever sore spots of sharecroppers and 
devastated dustbowls there may be (all 
symptoms of the failure of intelligence), 
there has been in every direction the remak- 
ing of life, ranging from garden cities and 
parkways to enlightened child guidance- 
indications of what technique combined 
with good will may make of our society. 
That there is much to be done remains 
unquestioned; that there is much now seri- 
ously threatened no one in his senses could 
deny. But even under the dislocations of the 
past twenty years, now seen as a mere truce 
between wars, what hasbeen done indicates 
what can be done. It is nothing less than 
hysteria or failure of nerve to believe that 
all is over because everything is interrupted. 
Indeed it would seem part of the very mini- 
mum of moral sanity today to keep in mind 
firmly that, however tragic and far-reaching 

[ 59 ] 

the interregnum through which we are pass- 
ing, it is an interregnum, even in Europe. 
It is to become a partner in the current 
madness that has overtaken the world to 
abet the madness by an abdication of just 
those interests and activities which in the 
long perspective make for the world's san- 
ity. Nothing that matters in an ordered time 
matters less now. The schools, the medicine, 
the research, the co-operative inquiry that 
are the only instruments of a better-ordered 
world are now more critically important 
than ever. It is not callousness but concern 
for the future of men that should urge us to 
keep alive the only enterprise working to- 
ward a more rational and equitable society. 
There is a parable in the story of the liberal 
French professor long ago imprisoned for 
his political opinions who returned after 
seven years to his class at the university and 
began, "As I was saying/* Whatever men 
were saying or doing that made sense or 

[ 60 ] 

was fruitful in life and society is no less 
sensible and fruitful now. It will not be less 
sensible or fruitful after the war is over. 
There is a chance, a bare chance, of course, 
that Europe will be an absolute chaos and 
shambles before peace comes. The peace 
that is arrived at may be no more than an 
armed truce. But even then men will have to 
begin again to rebuild, and it will only add 
to the destruction if the spirits and the minds 
of those not directly involved become a 
chaos and a shambles now. The methods of 
free inquiry and enlightened co-operative 
effort have been interrupted before. It 
would be foolish to the point of criminality 
to stifle them deliberately at a time when 
they are most threatened. 

What holds true of the more directly 
scientific methods of social control holds 
true in equal, perhaps in greater, measure 
for those concerns that seem (but only 
superficially) the luxuries of the spirit. It is 

t 61 ] 

a striking historical fact that some of the 
quiet, powerful creations of the human race, 
works that have left their permanent liberat- 
ing influence on mankind, were produced 
by men far from insensitive to the miseries 
of mankind, in times of apparent and of real 
dissolution and untold hurt to the bodies 
and souls of some of the best of their gen- 
eration. Even in times of peace there is 
every temptation to be distracted and to let 
the noise of events in their hectic timeliness 
divert us from the arduous concerns of art 
and mind. It would do all of us some good in 
our hopeless moments of nihilism to recall 
what Pericles, according to Thucydides, 
said in the funeral oration over the bodies of 
those who had fallen in the war. % 

Our constitution does not copy the laws of 
neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to 
others than imitators ourselves. Its administra- 
tion* favors the many instead of the* few; this is 
why it is called a democracy. If we look to the 
laws, they afford equal justice to all in their pri- 


. vate differences; if to social standing, advance- 
ment in public life falls to reputation for capac- 
ity, class considerations not being allowed to 
interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar 
the way; if a man is able to serve the state, he 
is not hindered by the obscurity of his condi- 
tion. The freedom which we enjoy in our gov- 
ernment extends also to our ordinary life. . . . 

Further, we provide plenty of means for the 
mind to refresh itself from business. We cele- 
brate games and sacrifices all the year round, 
and the elegance of our private establishments 
forms a daily source of pleasure and helps to 
banish the spleen; while the magnitude of our 
city draws the produce of the world into our 
harbor, so that to the Athenian the fruits of 
other countries are as familiar a luxury as those 
of his own. . . . 

Nor are these the only points in which our 
city is worthy of admiration. We cultivate re- 
finement without extravagance and knowledge 
without effeminacy; wealth we employ more 
for use than for show. . . , 

In short, I say that as a city we are the school 
of Hellas; while I doubt if the world can pro- 
duce a man, who, where he has only himself to 
depend upon, is equal to so many emergen- 


cies, and graced by so happy a versatility as the 
Athenian. . . . 

It was not of desolation or of misery that lie 
spoke but of what Athens at its best meant. 
If we cease to keep alive the things that 
are civilized in our society, our land is de- 
stroyed without a bomb bursting or an in- 
vader landing on our shores. There would 
not be much point in defending a civiliza- 
tion in which every civilized interest had 
lapsed. The arts and our intellectual activ- 
ities need to be kept alive, not simply be- 
cause, when they are most eloquent, clear, 
and free, they are the concentration of our 
best energies and of ourselves, but also be- 
cause they are liberators and nourishers of 
life. It is true that,, as Spinoza pointed out, 
the conditions of civil liberty are necessary 
to the preserving of intellectual freedom. 
But important also is the maintenance of the 
habit and the work of free speculation (free 
even from responsibility to the urgencies of 


the moment), for ideas permeate the atmos- 
phere in which freedom is cherished. The 
arts and thinking become more somber and 
responsible and serious in a tragic time. 
They may seem irrelevant, but, paradox- 
ically enough, their business becomes pe- 
culiarly urgent: to keep alive freedom and 
a deeper liberty, the play of mind and heart 
and imagination, in the living variety of 
human experience. Plato's Republic, Spi- 
noza's Ethics, Dante's Divine Comedy., and 
Wordsworth's Prelude were not written 
when the world was quietly happy. Their 
pages outlived the troubled eras in which 
their authors lived, and have brought light 
and healing to men in other troubled eras. 
Creative art and creative thought are life- 
continuing and life-renewing beyond the 
immediate clamor, even while destruction 
is rampant. And their creation may renew 
life for generations knowing happier times 
or facing other perils. Out of tragedy, think- 

[65 ] 

ing may envisage a way to lessen the trag- 
edy of other generations, or make images of 
a way of life less disastrous than our own. 

fc If we have been too hasty about science 
and its failure* we have been too hasty also 
in our assumption that democracy is ended 
because in certain parts of the world it is 
being flouted and discredited, because in 
the homes of such democracy as has existed 
in Western civilization the very processes of 
democracy have for long been confused and 
are now grimly interrupted. The democratic 
processes are very recent and have been 
very limited. There is even some responsible 
opinion among historians that they were 
never really alive and functioning in Ger- 
many and Italy of the nineteenth century. 
There lias been increasing realization of 
this, and one has but to read for illustration 
the comments of the Labor Opposition in 

[66 ] 

the British Parliament to know how little 
democracy has been operative in England. 
In the nineteenth century, even so wise an 
observer as John Stuart Mill assumed that 
the form of representative government itself 
would be enough. Ballot boxes and literacy 
were supposed to do the trick. We know 
very much better now. Jacques Barzun, in 
his recent illuminating book Of Human 
Freedom, has pointed out suggestively, as 
John Dewey in other terms has been point- 
ing out these many years, that unless democ- 
racythe flexible and courageous use of co- 
operative intelligence functions through- 
out our lives it does not function at all. If it 
has failed, it has failed because it has been 
tried in such limited terms, because so much 
of privilege has prevented it from being 
tried further, because so much of life for so 
many people has been excluded. The snob 
has functioned in the arts and made them 
trivial and unintelligible, those very arts 


which might be the means of imaginative 
sharing of the whole of experience by all 
men, the means of utterance of what mat- 
tered most to them, and the images of a 
more vital and ordered condition of life. 
Democracy has not been tried in industry 
because special privilege has determined it 
should not be tried. It has not been tried in 
education because authority and tradition, 
the social deposit of habit, have continued 
to function there, and because groups- 
dominant for whatever reason have wished 
to pass on inherited formulas rather than 
equip the young to develop fresh forms of 
living appropriate to new needs* 

The democracies have failed in Europe, 
we hear, meaning by democracy the pluto- 
oligarchy that has continued through consti- 
tutional forms. What makes us so certain 
that it could not function if it were tried? 
Probably three things: lack of faith in the 
common man, lack of belief that people 


could be deeply or effectively concerned 
with the common good, and, third, a sense 
that society could not be effectively planned 
without suppressing the liberty of individ- 
ual living. 

There is nothing in the crescendo of evil 
that has swept over the Western world that 
ought to make us lose faith in the common 
man. It is curious how the waves of political 
methods and ideologies pass over the lives 
of ordinary people. Even today there is no 
reason to believe that the common man in 
the countries that we feel have betrayed 
the democratic ideal is so common, so 
brutal, or so vulgar as his leaders. Today, 
right now in Germany and, as the writer 
knows from personal experience, in Italy 
after fifteen years of a totalitarian regime, 
the plain people wish to live a simple 
human life. And even without education, 
with pitiful means and under brutal sup- 
pressions, the Italian peasant leads his 

[ 69 ] 

life with a gay and human distinction. 
God must have loved the common people, 
Lincoln remarked in an often-quoted utter- 
ance, because he made so many of them. 
The democratic hypothesis is simply that, 
given a chance, the common man may be a 
high, not a low, common denominator. For 
what we call th^. needs of the avexage^man 
are those of everyone. He desires to eat, to 
sleep, to love. There is nothing that has hap- 
pened to make us believe that those ele- 
ments of decency and kindness, of living 
and letting live, which people exhibit if they 
are allowed to live without fear and insecu- 
rity, might not animate the decisions of man- 
kind. We have not seriously tried to give the 
common man an adequate voice in the 
commonweal.^ the leaders of the de- 
mocracies, not themselves democrats or 
brought up on a genuinely democratic con- 
cern, whp_have been complicity instru- 
mental in getting Europe into its present 

[ 70] 

state. It is true now, possibly more than ever, 
that the generality of mankind, left to them- 
selves, would live in amity and kindness. It 
is as much a challenge as ever to work for 
conditions of life under which people could 
come to be themselves, rather than to be 
stereotypes, or the victims of over-privilege, 
which makes them callous, or under-privi- 
lege ? which makes them slave.. Men and 
women are not angels, but they are not 
devils either. They are men and women/The 
experiment is young yet, that of arranging 
the conditions of life so that men and 
women can quietly be themselves and live 
decently shared lives. The community feel- 
ing in any village in Vermont, even the help 
and kindliness in a slum in London or New 
York, has shown what can be done in that 
direction. The battle against entrenched 
privilege, against authoritarianism, against 
snobbishness of race or caste, has been 
steadily going on. It is a battle quite as im- 


portant in the long run as that in China or in 
Europe. Only when that subtler battle is 
successful will the bloodier battles disap- 

It is still argued in many quarters that 
private pleasures, private greeds, and pri- 
vate interests will prevent that co-operative 
concern for the common good which is most 
people's buiiness. The average man, we are 
told, is too engrossed in his own little con- 
cerns, the great leaders too preoccupied by 


vast privileges and interests, to be occu- 
pied with the common good. I think this 
is largely because the commoi^^good has 
been conceived of as an abstraction. The 
cpnmon jjood is the good of eacL. But has 
not the war, have not totalitarian regimes, 
shown that a common concern, or what is 
pictured as being so, may be everyone^cpnh 
cern? Nor need private interests be sacri- 
ficed for it. It is possible, with proper educa- 
tion, to promote a moral equivalent for war. 


And many are discovering how thin are the 
private interests which are not shared. They 
have a tincture of poison in them. It is hard 
to realize how much moral loneliness and 
spiritual isolation there is in a society where 
people have no roots, no common bonds, no 
comradely concerns. 

But suppose we put the worst face on it. 
Suppose we say that the hope for human 
nature, for scientific control, for co-opera- 
tive sharing is not justified. As a matter of 
fact it is our only hope, for until the method 
of science and the organization of good will 
are made effective, we shall be paying in 
blood and in chaos as we have paid these 
tragic years. But suppose we grant that we 
are at the fatal turn, that every generous 
human hope is rendered nil. Is there any- 
thing elsePjThere is the^present^and the 
eternal. Bad as the present is, it is a good, as 
any future good must, in time, be a present, 
too. Whatever good it has is really good, 


just as good as it would be in a better time. 
Transitory, too, as the present is, it exhibits, 
as any present would, the eternal. And in 
the recognition of those present goods and 
manifestations of the eternal (for the eter- 
nal is always the same) lies a hint of what 
refuge we still have, if all our hopes founder. 


It may seem strange to the point of per- 
versity to declare in an almost immitigably 
tragic time that a vivid sense of the present 
is one of the best antidotes to despair. But 
the fact is, so great is the impact of events 
upon us, that we are losing the capacity to 
realize the present at all. Even in quiet 
times most people live for the most part at 
second-hand, by labels and cliches passing 
for experience. In tense periods such as that 
through which we are passing, we do not so 
much live as we are interrupted in living by 
dire intimations, by signals of death and 


darkness. We do not experience the present 
at all as a poet or any free spirit or, in a word, 
any person completely alive feels it. Each 
moment is filled with such complex uncer- 
tainty that we are losing the capacity to take 
or to feel the moment as it is in itself now. 
Haunted habitually by the thought of how 
all goods are threatened, we no longer have 
the freedom of spirit to be wholly or whole- 
heartedly acquainted with such goods of 
life as even now there are, such goods of 
life as persist, whatever ardors and endur- 
ances face men. These we experience at 
their fullest in art and play, in friendship 
and affection, or in our work ( if we happen 
to be lucky ) , and in all those activities which 
release and enhance the sense of being and, 
with it, the sense of joy. 

It seems more than perverse, it would ap- 
pear gratuitous, to remind us to live in the 
present, which we think is all too palpably 
with us. But is it? Even to the chaos and the 


misery of it we become numbed. A batde- 
sliip is destroyed, and we glibly speak of the 
loss of a thousand men. But we do not 
"realize"' in imagination the drowning of a 
single man or the sorrow of those who loved 
him. Men huddled on the Western Front 
become a line in a communique, a sentence 
in a strategical plan. One cannot help reflect- 
ing how much of human misery might have 
been, may still be, averted if it should be- 
come a habit of mankind to see in images of 
first-hand joy or sorrow what would be the 
consequences of a crusade upon which it 
is asked to engage or a fanaticism to which 
it is already committed. What will some 
hoped-for future look like, feel like, be like, 
when it becomes a present, in all its urgency 
of glow or lethargy, pleasure or pain? There 
ought to be a poet or a painter in the employ 
of every moralist or Utopian, to gresent him 
with a picture, unmistakable in its edge and 
vividness, of what the engineered or pre- 

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scribed happiness for which he is battling 
would be to the mind and the senses and 
the heart of men when it actually ceased to 
be a blueprint and became a daily human 
fact to sense and feeling. 

But if men forget that the future will some 
day be a present, they f orget^ too, that the 
present is already here, and that even in a 
dark time some of the brightness for which 
they long is open to the responsive senses, 
the welcoming heart, and the liberated 
mind. The moments as they pass even now 
have their tang and character. They may 
yield even now the contagious joy of feeling 
and perception. Here are the familiar flow- 
ers, the music we love, the poetry by which 
we are moved. Here are the books and com- 
panions, the ideas and the relaxations, the 
gaieties and the co-operative tasks of our 
familiar world. These tilings may be threat- 
ened, they may be precarious, they may be 
ours only by the grace of God, or of geo- 


graphical or economic accident. But unde- 
niably, beckoningly, along with the por- 
tents and alarms, here they are. Here, in all 
tragic times, they always have been, afford- 
ing challenge and delight to the senses, sol- 
ace and nourishment for the affections, and 
friendly stimulus to the understanding. 

Why should we feel that they are any less 
good, any less creditable, than in the past? 

The days that make us happy make us 

John Masefield once wrote. They are in- 
structions, by admirable instance, of what 
elements would go into a happy society. 
They are the first-hand realization of the 
extent to which civilization has achieved 
anything more than an abstract boast. That 
distant promised world of felicitywhich 
we now find it so hard to believe in what 
would it be in its eventual bright day but a 
bright day come to actuality for all mankind 


in the first-hand happiness men and women 
would experience in an eventual here and 

The moments of happiness possible to 
us even now are a more real consolation,, 
perhaps, than any promise of future happi- 
ness would be, and not simply because they 
are birds in the hand. They are the evi- 
dences and tokens of a better world. If that 
better world is impossible, at least now we 
have glimpses of what in any case it would 
have been or would have resembled. If a 
better world is still possible, what better 
clues could we have to what it would be, or 
what we should work for it to be, than these 
direct felicities, needing no argument or 
proof, that we now know? These little 
islands of sound life in a sick world, do they 
not lend some color to our hopes of a hap- 
pier time, do they not suggest what the 
color of such a happier time would be? A 
better world seems a little less impossible if 

[79 ] 

a little of its good, even in the midst of 
tragedy, shines through the tragedy now. Is 
it not part of the tragedy of our time, not 
that remote goods are being made remoter, 
but that actual good is being suspended? 
The hints of a better order are because of 
this very fact being stilled. 

What better planned economy of human 
hope could there be than one that took as its 
criteria such elements of delight and friend- 
liness, and rationality, as are possible to the 
fortunate and, at moments, to the unfor- 
tunate, even now? These are paragraphs of 
the good life, tinctured only by the sense 
that such good fortune is very rare and that 
they are so scattered, so precarious, and that 
there is so little companionship in them. 
The awareness of these present paragraphs 
of the good life can be enhanced through 
educa f tiqjx f ia,the . arts^ Companionship in 
them can be increased through the still pos- 
sible art of friendship even in an all-hating 


world. Education in delight and in the shar- 
ing of delight may be not only an antidote 
to the poison of despair. If made sufficiently 
contagious as an attitude toward lif e, it may 
be an instrument for removing the grounds 
for despair. If we learn now to see what the 
goods of life are and how they gain by being 
shared, the infinite possibilities of human in- 
telligence and natural resources in the world 
may be organized for the common good. In 
the broad sense the arts will be an education 
in feeling, and the art of politics will be 
human friendship made a standard political 

Nor need there be any fear, I think, that 
the planning of the instruments of living in 
the interests of human happiness will be an 
enemy of human liberty. Planning the con- 
dition by which human beings can live at all 
and live together does not mean prescribing 
what that particular kind of happiness 
will be. The vaunted liberties of a demo- 

t 81 ] 

cratic society have been too often the liber- 
ties of the already entrenched and privi- 
leged,, the economic and moral slavery of 
the many. To organize the means of living 
for all is not to preclude the possibility of 
living well, or variously or individually, by 
each. To make and secure life for all is not 
to destroy liberty and happiness for each; it 
is to promote them. Only where "planning" 
becomes an end in itself, and the individual 
is a cog in a totalitarian machine, does or- 
ganization by intelligence mean discipline 
by force. 

A sense of the present thus has an impor- 
tant moral bearing, one might almost say a 
moral exaltation. A paradise on earth may 
not be impossible, for any such heaven 
would be composed of colors and joys and 
companionships such as we now in the 
worst of times have still been able to know. 
All the more reason to find the wit and the 
will to build a society in which these can be 

[ 82] 

more generally and generously pervasive. 
We need not fear that human nature is in- 
capable of such realization, for human na- 
ture is largely what its opportunities and 
circumstances make it. And even where its 
opportunities and circumstances have been 
extremely limited, it has broken through 
to heights of joy and accomplishment that 
should make us modify our suspicion that 
only cruelty and barbarism are in its heart. 
The history of civilization may be looked at 
as the history of selfishness and cruelty. But 
that history is the history also of saints, ar- 
tists, and mystics. It ought not to be too 
much to believe, in the midst of disaster, 
that mankind can invent the conditions of 
human happiness, that mankind whose gen- 
iuses have invented and imagined so much, 
and whose simple people have enjoyed so 
much, under difficulty. And it is well to be 
reminded that such happiness is not impos- 
sible,.f0r in the midst of violence and stupid- 

[ 83 ] 

ity it has been achieved in the past; though 
clouded, it is being experienced fitfully even 


But suppose not. Suppose we take the 
worst alternative. The most desperate doubt 
at least or at last renders us free men. It lib- 
erates us at once from hope and fear. It is 
not cynical but realistic to say that the first 
condition of serenity is not to have too great 
expectations; it is essential, if we are to have 
peace of mind Jn timesjjf crisis, that we have 
no expectations at aJL^ 

Nor is this impossible. The life of even the 
most fortunate individual, the history of 
even the most tranquil society, is marked at 
any moment by doubts, anxieties, hopes, 
fears, expectations, and regrets. The crisis of 
civilization through which we are living is, 
though a tragic moment, a moment only in 
the history of the cosmos, an episode only 


in the history of men. History moves in long 
waves; we are caught in the roughest surf 
today, and hurled about by it. But in the 
midst of the ocean it will be calm tomorrow, 
In its depths it is calm today. Men have 
learned, though it requires genius of both 
ardor and disinterestedness to learn it, to 
look upon the worst with equanimity. 

There are moments of individual lives 
when we are enabled, for the time being, if 
only for the time being, to survey existence 
in its own terms and detach it and ourselves 
from the jaws of hoped or feared futurity. 
Great tragic art enables us to do that. It is a 
familiar fact that tragedy quiets and ele- 
vates rather than distracts and destroys us. 
If happiness must eventually be a here and 
now, even in the pleasantest lives and the 
most genial societies frustration is almost 
universal, and death, the final frustration for 
every living creature, for any way of life, is 
inevitable. The present is always with us, in 

t 85] 

the most desperate of times. The eternal is 
always illustrated, sometimes tragically il- 
lustrated, in even the most felicitous pres- 
ent. To discipline ourselves to live without 
hope or expectation does not mean that we 
pass to hopelessness and despair. It means, 
quite the contrary, that we pass to genuine 
serenity. To discover that our lives are 
doomed even in times of peace, that civili- 
zation as we now know it may be doomed 
in times of war, is to meet experience in its 
most direct and candid terms. It is to live in 
the immediate for whatever beauty it may 
incarnate, truth it may reveal, or good it 
may enshrine. But such beauties, goods, 
and truths encountered will be an initiation 
to eternity, even to a mortal and doomed 
creature in a society whose most generous 
hopes are canceled. 

The eternal we have always with us and 
it is always at once a stimulant and an ano- 
dyne. Everyone recalls the preternatural 


lucidity of an autumn day, when every 
color, so soon to fade utterly, has for the 
moment the quality of timeless being. "The 
spirit lives in this continual sense of the ulti- 
mate in the immediate." To behold the re- 
current types of energy and the spending of 
energy, of life and the passing of life, of 
hope and the disillusion that follows upon 
it, such beholding may even if the energy, 
life, and hope be our own raise us from the 
hurt and risk incident to existence in time to 
the peace of the eternal. To experience eter- 
nity does not take a long time. It may take 
an instant, as in the presence of a great work 
of art where the greatest number of ener- 
gies are focused in the most intense concen- 
tration. On any basis of what we might wish 
existence to be, the prospects of our time 
may be very sad indeed. But would not the 
most peaceful society and the most secure 
material existence, the gayest association, 
have their inner voice of disillusion and dis- 


appointment, too? Does not even ecstasy of 
love or art borrow part of its poignancy 
from the hushed obbligato of fatality that 
hovers over it, the inner voice of futility that 
whispers in it? The death's head at the ban- 
quet is a grim but true image for the most 
radiantly happy life. But experience has half 
its venom removed when it is held at arm's 
length, with the detachment of contempla- 
tion. The crucial state of civilization at the 
present juncture has simply dramatized on 
a colossal scale the anxiety and indecision 
that cloud even the most auspicious turns of 
individual lives or the lives of nations and 
cultures. Life is always at some turning 
point. Great poets and seers have taught us 
in the past, they may teach us now, to be- 
hold the view. Stopping thus to behold it, its 
urgency, though not its tragedy, may be re- 
moved. And then we shall, be enabled to 
behold what men have always beheld when 
they have raised their eyes to see: the se- 


rene, unending recurrences in Nature, the 
eternal forms and types of happiness and 
suffering, of cruelty and wisdom, of barbar- 
ism and saintliness, that perpetually return 
on the human scene. Even if our worst fears 
are realized, Nature will still breathe easily, 
and generate new men in new times to have 
hopes and fears again, While we live, at 
least, we can be alive in the perpetual music 
of the dream, the eternal note of the tragedy. 
And it is no small consolation to know, 
among these recurrences so regular as to 
be a land of eternity, "the beginning, if not 
the fullness of beauty." That is something to 
have lived for, to live by, when all else fails. 
If all else fails! One of the advantages of 
detachment is that it makes us see how hasty 
our despairs have been, how provincial, 
even on the human scale, our assumption of 
tragedy. The darkness now seems absolute. 
Men before us have forgotten that it hides 
the morning, .star.